Interview: Larry Wade Carrell, Writer-Director-Star of JACOB

Interview: Larry Wade Carrell, Writer-Director-Star of JACOB

LARRY AND FRIENDS
Samantha Loesch, Carol Menendez, Jessie Hunter
Photo by Art Giraldo Photography

Larry Wade Carrell is taller than I expected. He wears what appears to be a crimson velour shirt over leather pants, his goatee is carefully trimmed, his expressive eyes widening intermittently as he speaks. He is an eminently approachable guy, open and genial, and it becomes immediately apparent that these affectations—the red jacket, the pants—demonstrate a sense of fun, an energy that is always just barely held in check.

In fact, as Carrell begins talking Jacob, his Slasher film which recently received an honorable mention at the Montreal HorrorFest, as he begins talking filmmaking, talking movies in general, his enthusiasm threatens to take over. “I’ve always loved movies,” he says. “The escapism they provide. I just knew I had to make my own.” Jacob became his way to give back, to contribute to the pool of entertainment that kept him afloat for nearly his entire life.

Jacob tells the story of the Kell family. Edith Kell (Kristin Caldwell), following the strange and scandalous death of her husband, Lawrence (Michael Biehn), has been forced to take up with the brutish Otis (Carrell), the only man willing to support her and her two children, the precocious Sissy (Grace Powell) and disturbed Jacob (Dylan Horne). The dubious benefits Otis might provide come at a steep price; Otis is a drunk and given to beating Edith. Eventually, almost unavoidably, Otis’ behaviour leads to tragedy and Jacob reacts in the only way he knows, the only way he can.

Jacob draws from numerous sources, forming a Slasher the likes of which come along all too infrequently, a Slasher that relies not only on brutal, gory kills, but on well-drawn characters, on tone, and story.

This should come as no real surprise, given that Carrell, the film’s writer and director, was heavily influenced by films in which the viewer is called upon to truly connect, to care about the characters, films with an emotional core. Sling Blade and Of Mice and Men, in particular, served as strong influences on Jacob.

In fact, after seeing a ten minute sneak peak of the film at the Texas Frightmare Weekend, Robert Englund said he loved it, and that it felt like Friday the 13th meets Of Mice and Men. Carrell now uses the comparison as his go-to descriptor and calls Englund’s comments high praise.

In addition to having written the screenplay and directing the film, Carrell also stars in not one but two roles. He plays brothers, Billy and Otis. He says playing the roles was simply something he had to do. “I knew those characters so intimately,” he explains. “I couldn’t not play them.”

Carrell does acknowledge that, at times, he may overact, but sees it as what was required to play Otis. “The guy’s a hurricane,” he says, and so had to be played with full energy, with one-hundred percent intensity.

As he speaks of the characters, Carrell slips into their speech patterns and mannerisms, his voice dipping slightly lower, taking on a slower cadence as he describes Billy, only to pick up speed, his eyes widening, his stride turning to a strut as Otis takes over.

According to Grace Powell, who plays Sissy, and her mother, Susan, Carrell even began giving direction as Otis, a quirk Grace grew to dislike. “Oh,” Susan says with a rueful smile, “she hated Otis.” Grace rolls her eyes and nods in agreement.

Carrell met Grace on the set of a terrorism PSA for the city of Houston. He thought the eleven-year-old (now thirteen) had just the look he was looking for in Sissy. He approached her and her mother, and tried to reassure them both that he was not a creep. The “sexy” belt-buckle he was wearing, according to Susan, did not help matters, but the Powells eventually acquiesced and Carrell had his Sissy.

Carrell sees Powell and Dylan Horne, who plays the titular behemoth, Jacob, as the core of the film. The chemistry between Horne and Powell was immediately apparent. “Even off camera”, Carrell, says, “they were almost like a brother and sister,” despite the fact they’d never met before shooting commenced.

The director met Dylan Horne working at a video game shop. Carrell was manager and Horne came in looking for work. The moment he saw the big man, Carrell thought, “That’s my Jacob.” He hired Horne to both sell video games in his store and kill people on screen.

Once the screenplay had been completed, Carrell brought together some of the 45 best people he knew in the biz, his dream team. He told them what he wanted to do and they put their substantial collective talents to work.

The film complete, Carrell couldn’t help but think of ways in which he could improve it, make it a better sell to both eventual audiences and potential distributors. He realized the film needed a name, someone recognizable. Yet, he refused to tack on a role just so he could slap a known name on the poster.

He decided that scenes featuring Lawrence, Sissy and Jacob’s dead father, could be shot as flashbacks and that the role could potentially attract a high-profile actor. Carrell’s first thought, even before he’d begun working on the scenes, was that Englund might be interested, but quickly realized the veteran genre actor would be too old to play Lawrence. As he wrote the scenes, however, he came to know exactly who would play the Kell patriarch.

“Michael (Biehn) just kept showing up in my mind.” He’d been a fan of Biehn for decades, from The Terminator to Aliens to the actor’s work as a director, most recently on his own independent thriller, The Victim.

It was an uphill battle but, eventually, Carrell got Biehn on the phone, knowing full well that the actor took the call with the sole objective of ridding himself of the troublesome upstart. Over the course of a phone conversation that ran over an hour, Carrell managed first to convince Biehn he wasn’t just looking for his name on the poster, then that he was the only man to play Lawrence Kell. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn also joined in to play a deputy.

Biehn’s big scene involved a bar fight that is anything but typical. To save on time, Carrell converted the bar in which they shot the fight scene to also serve as the interior of the house in which Lawrence discovers a mysterious tome that would come to have an unexpected influence on his children.

The book is just the tip of a supernatural iceberg Carrell decided to leave largely uncovered. “I wanted to keep the audience guessing, even after they’d seen the film,” he says. “I wanted to keep them wanting more.”

At the moment there are no plans for a sequel to Jacob. “I just want to be the guy who made the first one and got it out there,” Carrell says. “Someone else can do a sequel.”

But further projects keep jostling for his attention and, when he gets an idea for a new project, Carrell simply has to complete it, to get it out of his mind and onto the screen. “I have an idea for a western nagging at me now,” he says.

For the moment, though, Jacob takes up nearly all of his time. The biggest struggle has been getting Jacob out there, getting it seen. “I know that if they see it, people will like it,” Carrell says, more Billy than Otis as he shakes his head slightly. “It’s just getting people to see it . . .”

The film was a personal project for Carrell, and he made it for true horror fans. “I kept worrying about that guy in Iowa, sitting on his couch at 2a.m.” he says. “If I’m gonna ask him to sit for 90 minutes and watch this, I have to make it worth it.”

“I kept telling everyone on set, ‘No false moments.’”

The film has yet to receive a poor review, having received high praise not only from the aforementioned Mr Englund, but from Twisted Central and Dread Central, who said, quite simply, “You should see this movie.”

He does say that if and when Jacob makes it to DVD and Blu-Ray, it’ll likely be loaded with features. “I’ve got over 20 hours of behind the scene footage,” he says, then laughs. “I really gotta edit that.”

I suggested he might also want to do two separate commentary tracks, one as Larry Wade Carrel, writer-director-actor, and one as Otis, inebriated douchebag. He seemed to like the idea, but I’m not holding my breath.

Still, one never knows; Carrell clearly has a wicked sense of humor, evidenced by the numerous Easter eggs he included in Jacob for attentive viewers. Watch closely and you might spot the Trogdor tattoo on Otis’ shoulder. The cartoon dragon of Strongbad E-Mail fame is also perched atop Otis’ cherished trophy. “The idea,” Carrell explains, “is that the local football team are called The Trogdors.” Even banners strung up in The Rusty Nail, the local watering hole, encourage the Trogdors to “burnanate” the competition.

In the meantime, Carrell is currently helping with camera work and edits on Jacob co-producer James Martinelli’s project, a non-horror documentary entitled Beneath the Mist: The Making of the Mist Project* And, of course, Carrell and his team continue to haunt the festival circuit. Their next few stops include the Slaughter Movie House with Jill Sixx on October 1, The Lake Charles Film Festival on October 6, The NJ HorrorFest on October 13, and the Blood at the Beach Horror Convention from November 9 to 11.

If you get a chance to catch Jacob, do not miss it. Having seen it, I can tell you, it is the type of Slasher of which we need more.

Read my review of Jacob, then be sure to like Jacob on Facebook

Header photograph by Art Giraldon Photography. Film stills by cinematographer Stacy Davidson.

 

*I was lucky enough to view some rough footage of Beneath the Mist and can only say that it looks incredible. Though it has nothing to do with horror—the documentary follows the opening of guerilla restaurants in Utah and Bali—some of the scenes I saw were more than a little frightening and one-hundred percent fascinating. Keep an eye out for this one.